One year after the UC Board of Regents voted on a historic 32 percent mid-year fee increase, the devastation has occurred once more. Last Thursday, the board voted to raise fees by 8 percent for the 2011-2012 academic year. The $822 increase brings the total cost of attending a UC per year to $11,124 – over 200 percent higher than what it cost 10 years ago.
The regents met last week from Nov. 16-18 at UC San Francisco to discuss and vote on the 8 percent increase (as well as other issues including renaming fees to “tuition” and changes to employee pension plans) which UC President Mark Yudof had formally recommended to the Board on Nov. 8.
During Wednesday’s portion of the three-day meeting, students and workers spoke during the public comment session about the items the Board would be voting on. Students spoke passionately about the impending fee increase and shared stories about the hardships they would face if the 8 percent were to be approved.
“I will have to drop out and I don’t know what else to do,” said Cindy Ramirez, a freshman at UC Santa Cruz.
UCI workers also spoke during public comment about their fight with the university to be recognized as UC employees. “We want to work directly for the university,” one worker stated.
In addition to students and workers, Professor Bob Meister of UCSC addressed the board and accused the regents of not truly thinking of alternative sources. He called Yudof’s Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan (a program that subsidizes annual fees for low-income students) “a sham” and ended his statement by asking, “Why are you pepper-spraying students outside?”
Public comment ended shortly before 9:30 a.m., just as protesters were being met by UCPD. Multiple students were pepper-sprayed as some attempted to break the police barricade set up outside of the building. A UC Merced student was detained for allegedly striking Officer Jared Kemper, a member of the UCIPD, with his own baton, but was later released with no charges. The incident in question is currently a major point of discussion amongst members of the student movement: the San Francisco Chronicle photographed Officer Kemper as he pulled his gun on a group of protesters.
A video released shows protesters attempting to enter the regents meeting through a parking garage adjacent to the building, but being stopped by several police officers. The video shows a brief struggle between Officer Kemper and a couple of students before he and the students are pushed away from the door. The sound of a baton hitting the ground can be heard as Officer Kemper drew his gun.
Pamela Roskowski, UCSF police chief, has since commented on the incident, saying it was self-defense. UCIPD had no comment on the situation. UCPD confirmed 13 arrests during Wednesday’s protest.
The Wednesday meeting continued after public comment with discussions about the UC budget and state funding. Regent Russell Gould, chairman of the Board, acknowledged Governor Schwarzenegger’s recent work in supporting the UCs, CSUs and community colleges, but added, “In spite of the priority we had, there are some stark realities facing us.” Gould repeated familiar comments regarding the reduction in funding from the state over the past decade, but still remained optimistic about the future of the UC. “I believe we can sustain the university, acting together,” he said.
Dan Simmons, faculty representative to the regents, added to the discussion regarding fee increases.
“We have little choice,” Simmons said. “While fee increases … should be taken as a last resort, all the other resorts are closed.”
But University of California Student Association (UCSA) president Claudia Magana, a third-year undergraduate student at UCSC, disagreed.
“We’re assured every year that this is a last resort, but it’s always the first proposal,” she said.
Magana also spoke on behalf of the protesters outside of the building.
“They’re here to fight for their education because they want to stay,” Magana said. “Your sympathies won’t retain the students, but your vote can.”
During Wednesday’s meeting, a joint committee voted to change the term “educational fees” to “tuition.”
Student regent Jesse Cheng disagreed with this vote, noting that the Master Plan always guaranteed no tuition for its students.
“Every step we take is a step away from the Master Plan,” Cheng said.
Cheng also commented on the protests outside. “Today was a really rough day … I don’t think people should be hurt during protests,” he said, referring to reports of injuries amongst both students and police officers. “Safety should be a first priority on both sides.”
However, Thursday was void of protests when the Board voted 15-5 to increase the newly-named tuition by 8 percent. During the discussion about the increase, Regent Eddie Island expressed his frustration with the Board.
“Shame on us,” he said. “There’s got to be, finally, at last, a better approach.” Island also said that, year after year, they would continue to turn to student fee increases “because it’s there.” Though he commended Yudof’s leadership, he criticized the insufficient actions taken to filling the budget gap.
Nonetheless, Island said he would support Yudof’s recommendation and voted “yes,” along with 14 other members of the Board, but not without criticism.
“I’m disappointed that when we are faced with tough decisions to make, we only get one choice,” Island said. “I would’ve liked to see an array of choices.”
Not all of the discussion on Thursday was positive for Yudof though.
“The reason I stand against the fee increase today is because I don’t believe it’s a long-term solution,” student regent Cheng said. “I don’t believe it’s sustainable.”
Cheng, along with regents Odessa Johnson, Charlene Zettel, Darek DeFreece and lieutenant governor Abel Maldonado, voted “no” on the increase.
“The question is simple: have we exhausted everything before we increase fees on students?” Maldonado asked. “And if we have, are raising fees our only choice? And if raising fees are our only choice, are we going to cut at the top too? Because this is not a one-way street; this is a two-way street.”
Maldonado’s speech drew several moments of applause, including his final statement in which he said, “In my heart, I feel like we haven’t, so I’ll be voting ‘no.’”
After the vote and as the meeting concluded, UCI students prepared for a noontime rally at the flagpoles. Last week, protesters posted signs around campus to alert students to the 8 percent increase. Red, green and black balloons were released in several major lecture halls around campus, with signs attached to them advertising for the rally.
Last Wednesday, five UCI students were detained by UCIPD after writing statements of protest in chalk around the humanities and on the brick walls outside of the Student Center. The director of the Student Center, Stacey Murren, said she had no plans to press charges for vandalism. However, if the UCIPD plans to pursue charges, one of the students who is already being charged by the university’s student conduct office may be faced with expulsion.
“The individual actions by students do represent the frustrations of many students across the state whether we as students agree with the methods or not,” Andres Gonzalez, ASUCI executive vice president, said. He added that “students are not fooled by the one-year deferment of the increase for families making under $120,000 and the increase of the Blue and Gold plan.”
“In the end, a fee hike is a fee hike, and there will be students affected at some level or another,” Gonzalez said.
At the rally on Thursday, fifth-year sociology graduate student Fernando Chirino addressed the crowd.
“We are not picking fights with the UC regents or administrators,” Chirino said. “They pick these fights with us.”
Speakers at the rally discussed the fee increases in context of racism and imperialism in society, as well as the university’s policy of targeting vocal, politically-affiliated students and of outsourcing its workers.
“We have no choice … when they say ‘cut back,’ we have to fight back, because we’re forced to fight back,” said Raul Perez, a grad student and member of Worker-Student Alliance.
The rally drew a crowd of about 40 people initially and the number of students and faculty gathered doubled over the next hour.
As the rally drew to a close, with no march around Ring Road as some anticipated, students walked away with worried expressions. One student said the funds his family set aside for him for college were running out and he’d have to apply for financial aid for next year.
“Happy fee hikes,” Chirino said, as the crowd dispersed. “I’ll see you around.”